The Rockies have been in a free fall for more than two months. And with apologies to Tom Petty, it hasn’t felt good for their team or fan base. They’ve suffered on-field slights, and off-field slights. They’ve suffered injuries, and embarrassment at the hands of those who have replaced those injured. Simply put, it’s been ugly.
Things have seemingly come to a head with Troy Tulowitzki‘s comments earlier this week. Tulowitzki’s voice is going to carry a lot of weight, and if he doesn’t back down from his words, then this offseason ownership may need to decide who is more valuable — Tulowitzki or their baseball operations braintrust. Assuming Mrrs. Monfort come to their senses and choose Tulowitzki, the new baseball operations team will need to pick a new direction. Consider this my suggestion.
See, the thing is that the Rockies have plenty of talent. And there are elements of their strategy that have been sound, even if they took the long way to go about things. Jordan Lyles, for instance, has been an asset given his extreme groundball tendencies. With Nolan Arenado, DJ Lemahieu and Tulowitzki, the Rockies have about as good an infield defense as there is. Getting Lyles fits that strategy, even if he wasn’t good value for Dexter Fowler.
Still, given the talent that the team has, there are plenty of steps between where they are now and being a contending team. Let’s go in.
Let Michael Cuddyer, Brett Anderson and Jorge De La Rosa walk. Cuddyer will be 36 next season. In his three seasons with the Rockies, he’s played well when on the field, but that hasn’t been frequently enough. To date, there have been 438 games he could have played in a Rockies uniform, and he has only suited up for 262 of them, or 60%. That’s not good enough. The same is true of Anderson. He’s tossed just 123 innings since the start of the 2012 season. As tantalizing is it to think that next season could be the season, it’s certainly not worth $12 million to find out. Perhaps the team could get him back on the cheap if they decline his club option, but under no circumstances should they be picking up his extension. Dave covered De La Rosa.
Non-tender Jhoulys Chacin. Following the 2010 season, Chacin held so much promise. He had a good strikeout rate, didn’t allow that many homers, and he had a 2.98 ERA as a starter — good for 11th in the National League (minimum 100 innings pitched). If he could just get his walk rate under control … but he never did. Well, he did last year, but he’s been back to his old self this season. Since the start of that 2010 season, just 17 of 176 qualified pitchers have a higher walk rate than does Chacin, and eyeballing that list, seven of those 17 have already started their last major league game. Just like in 2012, he’s been hurt again this season. His velocity is down, and batters are swinging less frequently against his stuff this year than ever before. And he doesn’t generate enough ground balls. He’s due another raise in arbitration, and at this point, he’s a lottery ticket. Lottery tickets should be cheap.
Sign Russell Martin. If it’s not supremely clear yet, Wilin Rosario is not a very good catcher. You don’t need advanced stats to know that. Since the start of 2012, he has eight more passed balls than any other catcher in the game. He was above average at throwing runners out in his rookie season, but he’s gone south since, and his 20% caught stealing rate this season is six percent below league average. And framing? Forget it. StatCorner has him as eighth-worst cumulatively this season, and he is still firmly ensconced in the bottom half when you look at per game rates.
Signing Martin, who has a much better defensive reputation and statistical profile, would fix this issue for the Rockies. Martin could take the lion’s share of the catching duties, with Rosario filling in as the backup. This would free up Rosario to work in a platoon with Justin Morneau. Morneau has predictably hit left-handed pitching horribly this season, and Rosario has never been much for hitting the righties. It wouldn’t be a strict platoon, but it would be a much better way to properly leverage each player’s strengths.
Trade for Jon Niese. The Mets have far too many starting pitchers. Niese isn’t expensive, but he’ll be the team’s second-most expensive pitcher, and their fourth-most expensive player as things stand now. Given that he is under contract, the Rockies will have to give up something good for him — which is fine, the Rockies have a strong farm system — but Niese would be worth the price. Niese gets ground balls galore, and also manages to keep his home run rate down.
Sign Justin Masterson, Hiroki Kuroda, Brandon McCarthy and/or Francisco Liriano. The Rockies almost certainly aren’t going to target Jon Lester or Max Scherzer in free agency, and they probably wouldn’t want to come to Colorado anyway. But as luck would have it, four of the groundballingest pitchers in the game are set to hit free agency this winter. Masterson, obviously, would be the coup. Perhaps he’ll even come cheap, given his superficially poor season. As Jeff Sullivan noted at the trade deadline, the Indians defense didn’t do Masterson any favors, and the Rockies’ infield defense would help him just as the Cardianls defense should down the stretch. If they can’t land Masterson though, there are other good options, and none of them should cost a mint.
Play Corey Dickerson every day. Charlie Blackmon had the amazing April, but Dickerson has had the amazing season. His 146 wRC+ is 14th-best in the game as I write this. Dickerson has hit at every level, and while his batting average on balls in play is high, it doesn’t mean he’s in line for a huge drop. When Jeff Zimmerman looked at xBABIP values at the end of July, Dickerson had the highest xBABIP in the game. Yet, the Rockies still aren’t committing to him full-time. In fact, in August he’s been benched more frequently than usual. This needs to stop. Assuming good health, Gonzalez and Dickerson should play every day, with Drew Stubbs and Blackmon platooning, and Brandon Barnes manning the fifth outfielder role.
So, what do we have? Let’s take a look.
– C: Russell Martin
– 1B: Justin Morneau
– 2B: DJ Lemahieu
– 3B: Nolan Arenado
– SS: Troy Tulowitzki
– LF: Carlos Gonzalez
– CF: Charlie Blackmon/Drew Stubbs
– RF: Corey Dickerson
– C/1B/DH: Wilin Rosario
– INF: Josh Rutledge
– OF: Brandon Barnes
– SP: Jordan Lyles, Jon Gray, Eddie Butler, Jon Niese, Justin Masterson
That leaves you with one position player slot to fill, and the bullpen, which needs a near total teardown as well — only Adam Ottavino and LaTroy Hawkins are really worth keeping, though they’ll also be stuck with Boone Logan. Perhaps Juan Nicasio‘s stuff will play up in the bullpen — we’ll find out during the final two months. They’d also need more starting pitching depth, but between Tyler Matzek — who has shown flashes of his potential this season — and Tyler Chatwood, who should be back by the second half, they won’t be barren. And maybe Anderson comes back on the cheap. All in all though, this is a much better team, and one that is easily doable payroll-wise.
Letting Cuddyer, De La Rosa, Anderson, Chacin, Matt Belisle, Wilton Lopez and Franklin Morales depart will save the team more than $43 million. Some of that will go to arbitration raises, but there should absolutely be enough money there to afford Martin, Niese and Masterson (or Liriano, McCarthy or Kuroda). Aside from Tulowitki and Gonzalez (and perhaps Arenado and Dickerson) that may not seem like the most imposing roster, but as Dave noted in his chat this week, a balanced team full of non-stars can dominate. This blueprint would give the Rockies that balanced team, and they’d still have those two stars in tow.
The Rockies have been abysmal, and there are several things that they need to do to turn things around. But they do have plenty of talent, and if they make the right moves, they can be right back in the thick of things next season.
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